They came. They went. There are no pigs now.
I’ve been considering how to write this post for some time, and we decided that photos were a little beyond the tone of our blog, at least for now. You can find some excellent (and graphic) posts online regarding pig butchering, so there’s no point in me trying to poorly reinvent that wheel.
Instead, here’s some thoughts on the process from the perspective of a first-time livestock raiser.
I thought it would make me feel guilty or depressed. I really liked our pigs. We weren’t attached to them like a family pet, but they were friendly and inquisitive and cute in their own way. I liked how they would grunt loudly, almost like a bark, and charge across the pen to see if you had snacks for them. When the farm butcher truck showed up and the guy came around the barn with a rifle, I felt sad, but accepting. Our pigs had a good life. We never mistreated them, they had room to play, dirt to dig in, lots of snacks, and they died instantly. Many a gazelle being torn apart on the African plain wishes it could be so lucky. One pig stuck it’s head out of the pig hut and the guy shot it there. The second one ran a few steps out of the hut (startled by the shot) and then walked across the pen toward the guy. They both just fell down.
I thought it would make me dizzy. I’m prone to passing out from medical programs. I’ve been known to fall out of a chair from an overly detailed discussion of kidney dialysis. This was my number one fear of the butchering process, and I didn’t have any problems. Once dead, they just seemed like meat, and I have no particular problem with meat. The pigs weren’t feeling pain. They were just a big carcass that somebody was disassembling.
Things don’t go as you plan. Maybe if you butcher them yourselves you can get all the details right (maybe), but when you hire someone you are subject to their decisions as well. I’m not being critical. There are very few options for on-farm kill in our area (we weren’t going to terrify the pigs by hauling them somewhere), and the company we hired is considered the best. I just wish three things could have gone differently:
- Late sticking. The first pig shot was the last to be stuck. Pigs are officially supposed to be stuck in less than 15 seconds (so they bleed out quickly), but I’m going to guess it took 20 second before he got to this one. I’m not sure if it will affect the meat or not.
- Bad kill site. A few seconds after being shot, pigs begin to thrash around violently–it’s caused by randomly firing nerves as the central nervous system fails. The second pig was shot over their muck pit (read: poo) and what started as a pretty clean pink pig end up a muddy black mess after 30 seconds of rolling and twitching. Ultimately, this shouldn’t affect the meat, since it was skinned, washed, and hung neck down, but it’s certainly not the picture of grassy pastoral butchering that you like to imagine.
- Public butcher site. I wanted them to pull the truck back by our barn, but there’s no “official” driveway there and they decided to park in the road instead. So yes, there were skinned pig carcasses hanging in the air and being gutted in the middle of the road. Thankfully, it was a Saturday so there were no school buses. We did have one neighbor jog by with a dog (she pretended not to notice), and one drove by in a pickup (she paused and stared aghast).
The butchering goes incredibly fast. They hooked the carcasses and dragged them to the edge of the road and washed them off a bit. Next, they cut off the feet and used them to prop the carcass upside down. One guy slit the skin down the stomach, and they worked each side of this cut with a sharp knife, separating the skin from the layer of fat. Then they hoisted the carcass up by the hind legs (a power winch was handy here), and peeled the skin down off the back. Next they gutted it, starting from the rear (the highest point). They caught the digestive track as it spilled out, cut it free, and discarded it. The heart was removed and saved, as was the liver (bile removed). The remaining organs and the diaphragm were removed and discarded. They washed everything out with the hose, hoisted the carcass into their freezer truck, and sprayed off the pavement. With three people working, the entire process for two pigs took about 25 minutes.
Looking forward, I think we feel more confident about doing the butchering ourselves in the future. It wasn’t an easy job, but it wasn’t awful either. We would take a lot longer, using caution to make up for our lack of skill. There are certainly advantages to home butchering: your total costs go down by half, you can control the variables better so they are thrashing on grass instead of mire, and you can save parts that are usually discarded (like the feet and certain organs).
On the other hand, when you hire someone, they are here and gone in 30 minutes, and the next time you see the pigs they are in the form of neatly wrapped little packages of meat. It’s hard to argue with the simplicity.